shallowness: Margaret Hale of North and South adaptation sitting at desk writing (Margaret North and South writing)
[personal profile] shallowness
Title: Nothing Stays the Same
Fandom: Downton Abbey
Rating: Universal
Characters/Pairing: Lady Edith Crawley
Summary: We all hurt/we all lie/and (we all learn that) nothing stays the same

Disclaimer: Not mine, don’t profit.
Author's Note: With thanks to ComingAndGoingByBubble for beta reading this, all errors are mine. Set between series 4 and the Christmas special, spoilers for the latter. Title and summary from ‘Nothing stays the same’ by Luke Sittal Singh, which is a song that’s always been connected to this show in my mind. 2,137 words.


Nothing stays the same: shallowness


Edith had told her mother over the telephone line by which train she intended to come back to Downton from London.

“Darling, we’re all so looking forward to seeing you again,” had been Cora’s response.

Hearing those words had made Edith smile. Her mother had almost make her believe that they were true, but the reception at the station gave the lie to them. Edith was met by the car and a new chauffeur whom she only recognised by the livery. Nobody came from the house. After being escorted to the point of suffocation by Aunt Rosamund for the past few months, it ought to have been refreshing to sit alone in the back seat of the car, a welcome chance to think and to feel without pretence, but Edith had already had all those cheerless hours in the carriage of the train to relive memories of past journeys home, when she had left Michael behind in town or after he had gone to Germany and vanished and how desperate she’d been for news, the desperation growing along with the child within her. She could have done with company now. Perhaps not Grandmama’s.

Was it so unreasonable of her to have hoped that someone would have come based on what Mama had said? After all, Edith had been away from home for rather a long time. She was all too aware that life had gone on without her, there had been letters filled with news that she’d carefully answered, telling little in response to polite enquiries. But it would have been nice to feel that someone couldn’t wait to see her again.

As it was, Edith was sitting behind the new chauffeur, who had nothing to say to her new lady’s maid, who was probably watching the view with a good deal of curiosity. For Edith it was all too familiar, painfully so, when she thought of how much she’d changed in contrast, and of how much she would have to hide.

At least the front door was open before the car drew to a stop.

Then her mother was there, hugging and kissing Edith. It was hard not to cling and hard not to feel guilty for her thoughts of that day and for so much more. A longing to sob out everything hit Edith just as her mother let her go. Habit made Edith straighten up a second later.

It was clear from the smile in her mother’s eyes that she was truly glad to see her daughter. It was an expression that Edith knew she had made every time they had brought her own daughter to her, for far too short a time. She had seen her mother smile like this before over the years, but she had never appreciated it like this, not even after losing Sybil.

Some of Edith’s certainty about what she had to do wavered. Would that look be snuffed out if Mama learned the truth? Aunt Rosmaund had urged secrecy at all costs, but Edith’s desire to be a child again mixed with the knowledge of what it meant to be a mother made her both doubt and hope.

“Are you tired after your journey?” Cora asked.

Edith shook her head, the question bringing her back to the moment. Mama simply couldn’t know. Edith couldn’t tell her. Here they were surrounded by servants and the weight of everything Downton Abbey stood for. They weren’t just a mother and daughter reuniting. They were Crawleys.

Edith tamped everything down, so that she even managed to introduce her new lady’s maid to Mrs Hughes in a clear voice. She let her mother lead her indoors as if everything were quite all right, or if it weren’t, that it could be cured by some tea.

Edith found that Papa, Mary and even Tom had been imposed upon to form the indoors welcoming party, although she could tell that they had broken off from some sort of discussion that was on the verge of becoming an argument to greet Edith and Cora.

Papa’s smile was good to see, even if Edith wondered whether he would have welcomed any interruption with a smile. Almost any interruption, she amended. She couldn’t imagine what his expression would be if she were to blurt out what had really happened over the past few months.

“Hullo,” Mary said, as Edith inclined her face towards her sister in a gesture they’d perfected over the years, where neither had the faintest intention of greeting the other with a kiss. Sometimes, it was deeply inadequate, but today it was rather a relief to find that Mary was still Mary. “How was Switzerland?”

“Oh, it was nice,” Edith answered, and could see Mary’s distaste for the conventional description as soon as the world ‘nice’ left her mouth, but what was she meant to say? One couldn’t wax rhapsodic about a clinic.

“I’m sure it was very interesting,” Tom said, reaching out his hand and shaking Edith’s vigorously. Sincerely. It reminded Edith that she and Sybil would have greeted each other much more warmly than Edith and Mary ever could. There had been situations where Edith had been faintly embarrassed by such exuberance, but she had been very young then and sure that the right crowd would look down at them and say it was because of their American mother.

Edith turned to look at that American mother, whom she’d come to see in a new light while at Switzerland, something that Aunt Rosamund would never understand. Mama was handing her a teacup with the impeccable timing of the lady of the house.

“Thank you,” Edith said, giving her mama a smile and taking firm hold of her side of the saucer. There had been plenty of tea all the time she was away, but it had never been the same as drinking it out of their familiar service.

“Couldn’t Grandmama come?” she asked, trying not to sound too plaintive and determined not to show how she had felt at the station.

“She’ll be here for supper,” Mama told her.

“We thought that was quite enough,” Papa said.

“For her and for us,” Mary said. The servants took over the tea-serving, as Edith sat down next to her mother, and in doing so, feeling a wave of déjà vu pass through her, unsettling her. As much as the familiar scents and sounds, it was because of the roles they were all playing.

“Then she’s in fine fettle,” Edith said, trying to keep the conversation going.

“The finest,” Papa answered, earning a smile from Mama.

“And the children?” Edith asked carefully. She’d thought it through and decided that Sybbie and George would be the most difficult of Downton’s inhabitants for her to see again. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy to pick up the old threads, lie about everything that had happened to her family, but she had to, and that was that. However, the children would have changed, because that was what children did, and yet they would still be young enough to be a reminder of the owner of another pair of small hands, a small weight in one’s arms. They would be what Edith would never see her child grow up to be.

“Asleep, I hope,” Mary said.

“More than likely Sybbie’s telling George a story” Tom put in, with some pride, Edith noticed. Of course, Sybbie and George were reminders for Tom and Mary of Sybil and Matthew too. Her daughter wasn’t all that was lost to Edith. She hadn’t been able to avoid seeing glimpses of Michael in her face in the few hours she’d had to study her.

Edith drank her still-hot tea too quickly. As she spluttered, wishing Mary wasn’t there, everyone else turned their heads to look at the door.

“Edith,” Rose hailed her, “you’re back, safe and sound! I did mean to be here to welcome you, but I wanted to finish off my letter to Madelaine, and, well, do put that tea down and let me kiss you.”

Edith followed the instructions, knowing that some of Rose’s excitement at seeing her had to be because she was a change, smiling at it, nonetheless, because Rose’s spirit reminded her of Sybil. Their hug was brief, Edith didn’t feel the need to cling.

“I’m so glad you’ve arrived, although we’ll soon be travelling down to London, but you are coming with us for my coming out, aren’t you?”

“Yes, absolutely,” Edith said, smiling at Rose. ”It was always what we intended.”

If it hadn’t been, perhaps she would have fought Rosamund for an extension to their time abroad, for time with her baby.

“Indeed it was,” Cora echoed her. “I’m glad it all went like clockwork. If only I could be sure that Rose’s coming out will too.”

“Oh stop fussing, Mama,” Mary said. “You’ve prepared her perfectly. It’s sure to go without a hitch.”

“I hope so,” Rose said vehemently.

“I’m sure it will,” Edith told her. “I didn’t manage to muff up my presentation, so I’m sure yours will go swimmingly.”

“Edith, your presentation was perfect,” Mama said. Edith knew, without looking, that Mary was rolling her eyes. ‘Passable’ was a better description than perfect. It felt very far back now.

“Er, how did you leave Rosamund?” their father asked, remembering his fraternal responsibility.

“Very well,” Edith said. “She contrived to enjoy herself, but I think she’s glad to be back in London.”

She picked up her cup and saucer again, feeling like a fraud. But Rosamund had coached Edith about her return to Downton as intently as Cora was coaching Rose for her come-out. What to say, what to do and what, by all means, to stop anyone from suspecting. Better not to think of what she had done, what she had given up, let out of her arms. Leave the tears behind with your daughter on foreign soil.

“Your tea’s getting cold, Edith, dear” Cora said, as cake was offered. Edith took the smallest sliver she could see.

*

Edith had wanted to visit the nursery on her own. She’d washed, but not yet changed out of her travelling get-up. Mama was busy with Rose, and Mary, Papa and Tom had returned to their argument, which was about machinery and principles. Edith knew that Nanny wouldn’t fuss about the visit. If the children were sleeping, Edith would rather prefer it, as she could see them without being seen.

She hadn’t let herself imagine the children in the nursery while she was away. When they were referred to in the letters, Edith had mentally placed them outside in their perambulators, although Sybbie was too old for one, and Cora’s letters were full of the girl’s adventures. But thinking of the nursery where Edith had spent so much time was a little too close to the bone. Edith’s own child would never join Sybbie and George there, making a third, just as she, Mary and Sybil had made three. It would be impossible.

Now, she made herself knock the door lightly and open it. Edith could see they were absorbed in their play, George with some building blocks, while Sybbie was turning a stuffed bear upside down. Both children had changed - George was shaking off babyhood and becoming a boy, while Sybbie was Sybil’s girl, with dark hair and so many of her mother’s features that Edith felt rather choky.

But Sybbie was a Branson too. She looked up at the new arrival, and the considering look she was giving Edith made Edith wonder if she had enough strength to carry on with this charade.

“Hullo,” Edith said to the little girl, knowing her voice was wobbling. “Do you remember me?”

The considering look continued.

“Aunt Edith,” Sybbie said carefully.

“Yes,” Edith responded. “Yes, I am.” Tears that had been threatening suddenly formed, because Edith would never speak to her and Michael’s daughter and Sybbie would never speak to her mother, and it was all so wretched, but at least someone had talked to Sybbie about Edith or the child would have forgotten her. It was rather reassuring. “Will you give me a hug, Sybbie?”

It was a gift to see a flash of Sybil cross over the little girl’s face.

“Yes,” she said, walking towards Edith. “Don’cry, Aunty Edith.”



Fin

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